All the King's Men

All the King's Men Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Consider as "all the king's men" all those who were closest to Governor Willie Stark: Jack Burden, Sadie Burke, Tiny Duffy, Sugar-Boy, and Willie's family and mistresses. How do these characters interact to support Willie or cause Willie's downfall?

  2. 2

    Who is the main character in the novel: Jack Burden or Willie Stark? That is, who is the real focus--the "king" or his "man," Jack? What criteria should we use to determine who the main character is?

  3. 3

    Is Jack responsible for Willie's death? Does he really believe that he is? From a moral standpoint, is he guilty?

  4. 4

    How does the Cass Mastern story relate to the novel as a whole? What does it do, if anything, to bolster the book's drama and meaning? Is this tale necessary or worthwhile, or does it detract from the overall narrative?

  5. 5

    Compare the fictional character Willie Stark with the historical Huey P. Long. How would any ties between Willie and a real-life figure affect the novel's meaning? What details does the author change for his novel?

  6. 6

    As narrator, Jack mentions the notion of time frequently. Consider the meaning of "time" how it relates to both the plot and the symbolic language of the novel. How is time used to express Jack's feelings and to influence the narrative?

  7. 7

    Snarky, cynical Jack Burden is one of the more vivid and memorable narrators in modern American literature. Compare Jack's character, experience, and style of narration with that of another 20th-century narrator. Consider, for instance, Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye), Nick Carraway (The Great Gatsby), Quentin Compson (The Sound and the Fury), and Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius).

  8. 8

    As governor, Willie Stark runs his administration ferociously, using dirty tricks, blackmail, and sometimes bribery to keep his opponents in line. Are such tactics always necessary in politics, sometimes necessary in bad circumstances, or never necessary or justified? Consider today's political situation for comparison. Similar topics might include the use of media, oratory, graft, handouts, and digging up dirt.

  9. 9

    The three leading women--Anne Stanton, Sadie Burke, and Lucy Stark--are all involved romantically with Willie Stark. Additionally, all three find difficulty in the male world of 1930s politics; women's suffrage, for instance, was relatively new. Do the women have the same range of moral and political differentiation as the men, from strongly moral to pragmatically semi-moral to strongly immoral, and from strong leadership roles all the way down?

  10. 10

    At the end of the novel, is Jack correct in deciding against telling Sugar-Boy that Tiny Duffy was culpable in Willie's death? Should Jack do anything more to avenge Willie's death?

  11. 11

    On the basis of evidence in the text, can one identify key elements of an "Old South" morality and a "New South" morality?

  12. 12

    To what degree was Willie Stark really transformed by the time of his assassination? Consider his last words that "it might--have been different--even yet."

  13. 13

    How apt are the lines, "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, / All the king's horses and all the king's men, / Couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again"?

  14. 14

    Examine Willie Stark as a speechmaker and in his public reputation. Possible comparisons include Governor Jack Stanton (Primary Colors); Napoleon (Animal Farm); Senator James Burden Day (Washington, D.C.); Senator Jefferson Smith (Mr. Smith Goes To Washington); Senator Bill McKay (The Candidate); Charles Foster Kane (Citizen Kane).